Scandals That Rocked The Beauty Industry

The metamorphosis of the beauty industry is certainly a fascinating one. From the crushed carmine beetle, clay, and metal-based cosmetics of ancient Egypt to the early graves of women who used lead-based makeup in the Middle Ages (via HowStuffWorks). To the more recent marches of PETA protestors fighting against animal testing and advocating for vegan products, beauty's evolution is arguably one of the most enduring journeys in history. And admittedly, it's easy to see why. Our ancient ancestors discovered the power of makeup during the dawn of time, and it didn't take long for them to recognize that looking better on the outside made them feel better on the inside — a concept we still hold onto strongly today.

In fact, the beauty industry has grown to have so much influence over our lives that it's estimated to sit at around $571.1 billion, a number that outweighs the movie industry by over $400 billion (via Oberlo). And there are no plans for the growth to stop soon. By 2027, the projected beauty industry outlook is around $663 billion — a figure that shows us just how much beauty, skincare, and personal care products dominate both our time and our wallets. For those who seek a career in the behemoth industry known as beauty, it's certainly a lucrative path with plenty of chances for success.

A new type of celebrity

With such hefty financial gains, it's easy to conclude that those who have made it in the beauty industry are nothing short of modern celebrities. Beauty gurus on YouTube rake in millions of dollars per year, while famous artists like Rihanna have expanded their already well-known empires into massive global phenomena by dipping their toes in the industry, as reported by Forbes. When a respected member of the beauty community tells us to buy a new product, we run to do so. In short, the voices of those in the industry have power, impact, and of course, endless creativity.

But what happens when things go amiss for one of these respected icons? With every industry and the people in it, there comes a fair share of lies, greed, or scandal, and the beauty world is no exception. Whether it's of their own doing or they just happened to fall victim to an unfortunate event, beauty moguls have, on numerous occasions, found themselves in the middle of controversy. We've watched some of them lose millions of followers and either get back up and rise or fall completely off our radars. Here are some of the biggest scandals that turned the beauty industry upside down.

The NikkieTutorials blackmail

Nikkie de Jager, better known as NikkieTutorials on YouTube, told HelloGiggles that she began her influencer journey in 2008 when she caught a glimpse of Lauren Conrad's eyeliner on an episode of "The Hills." Fascinated, the then 14-year-old from the Netherlands was inspired to begin uploading makeup tutorials and enroll in makeup courses. Since then, de Jager has accumulated 14 million YouTube subscribers, worked on countless cosmetic collaborations, became a Marc Jacobs Global Beauty Advisor, earned the title of United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, and released her own cosmetics brand called Nimya. But despite all of her shiny success, de Jager has faced personal hardship that she has notably turned into professional victory.

In January of 2020, the 25-year-old makeup artist posted a YouTube video titled: "I'm Coming Out." In the video, de Jager, noticeably trying to hold back tears, shared, "When I was younger I was born in the wrong body, which means that I am transgender." She continued to explain that blackmailers threatened to leak her story to the press after accusing her of lying about who she is. In retaliation, de Jager took to YouTube to share her story before the blackmailers could, and the result of the video left her feeling nothing but support from the makeup community.

Weeks later, de Jager shared another YouTube video announcing that she had uncovered the person behind the blackmail, stating that it was a man neither she nor the public knew. NikkieTutorials' success continues to grow, and though she suffered bouts of mental health issues after the video's release, her name and brand remain among the most well-respected and well-known in the industry.

The James Charles and Tati Westbrook feud

Tati Westbrook had her foot well in the YouTube makeup guru door when 17-year-old newcomer James Charles came knocking. "He always told me that I was the reason that he wanted to get into makeup and was inspired to start his channel, and it was just nice to hear. I made the choice that I was going to help him," Westbrook said in a now-deleted YouTube video (via Life & Style). Soon, the pair became close friends, with Charles even doing Westbrook's makeup for her wedding. Over the next few years, the makeup pals endorsed several of each other's products and made guest appearances on each other's YouTube channels.

It wasn't until 2019, after Charles uploaded an Instagram story in which he voiced his support for hair vitamin company Sugarbear Hair, a direct competitor of Westbrook's company called Halo Beauty, that things began to unravel between the two. In response to the vitamin endorsement, Westbrook posted her own Instagram story discussing — through tears — her feelings of loneliness in an industry where people constantly use each other. Charles, noticing the video was clearly about him, snapped back in defense by stating that he simply gave Sugarbear Hair a shout-out after the brand's security team kept him safe at Coachella in an uproarious crowd.

According to INFLOW Network, after several weeks of silence, Westbrook uploaded a 43-minute YouTube video titled "Bye Sister," where she discussed Charles, his manipulative and hypocritical qualities, his sexual coercion of men, and his embarrassment to endorse Halo Beauty because of his "younger" following.

The Charles and Westbrook aftermath

Naturally, as both Charles and Westbrook have millions of followers each, the beauty community began a widespread feud while arguing over whose side they were on. Some backed up James Charles, while others came to Tati Westbrook's defense. Famous YouTubers like Jeffree Star slammed Charles, and soon he began to lose millions of subscribers as Westbrook's following increased (via ABC News). Eventually, Charles decided to release his own since-deleted apology video on YouTube that was geared toward Westbrook and her husband. He confessed that he never meant to hurt Westbrook. But the beauty and celebrity communities didn't buy the apology.

While Jeffree Star continued to share tweets about Charles that claimed his apology video was a lie, Charles continued to lose more and more followers, including the Kardashian/Jenner crew, Demi Lovato, Ariana Grande, and Miley Cyrus. The feud held its flame for the upcoming weeks with back-and-forth videos and tweets between everyone involved, but both Charles and Westbrook soon decided to take a step back from the series of events and stay quiet for a while. The drama seemed to fizzle out by the end of 2019, and most everyone assumed it was over.

However, in June 2020, Westbrook posted a Youtube video explaining that she had been manipulated by YouTubers Shane Dawson and Jeffree Star to post her original "Bye Sister" video. She accused Dawson and Star of becoming obsessed with ruining Charles' career because they were "bitterly jealous of James' success" (via Elle). Star and Dawson both denied the allegations, and Westbrook decided to take a year-long hiatus from YouTube in the aftermath.

The Sunday Riley fake reviews

Sunday Riley is a female-owned skincare company that promises to provide consumers with sustainable, cruelty-free products backed by science. However, after a 2019 scandal involving the brand's unethical business practices, some loyal customers have lost all trust in the company. In October 2019, CNN reported that the Federal Trade Commission launched an investigation into the company after a former employee accused them of writing fake reviews. In their search, the FTC discovered that not only were the allegations true but that they involved founder and CEO Sunday Riley herself.

The original government complaint disclosed that from 2015 to 2017, Riley instructed employees to create three accounts each on Sephora's website with made-up names, locations, and skin types (via The Washington Post). They were told to forge new Gmail accounts, clear their cookie history, and connect to the internet with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that matched where their "character" was from. Then, the employees were to leave positive, 5-star reviews each time these steps were taken. Moreover, Riley had her employees "dislike" all negative reviews — if a review is disliked enough on Sephora's website, it will be taken down. According to The Washington Post, the FTC responded to the situation by prohibiting Sunday Riley from making any further false reviews or personas, and the employees must now report their internet activity to the company.

The reputation of Kat Von D

When tattoo artist Katherine Von Drachenberg — known professionally as Kat Von D — made her debut on TLC's popular "Miami Ink" in 2005, very few would have guessed that her biggest break would actually come years later in the beauty industry. After parting ways with "Miami Ink," Von D landed her own TV show called "LA Ink" in 2007, which brought the multi-talented star a new wave of popularity and success. By 2008, Von D had launched a limited-edition makeup line with Sephora, which soon blossomed into a permanent collection that she ran herself (via Insider).

Several years after the launch of the Kat Von D brand, the mogul received strong backlash for numerous lipstick shade names. Notably, colors called "Celebutard," "Underage Red," and "Selektion," — a word used for the "selection" of Jews in Nazi Germany — were considered questionable and disrespectful, but Von D refused to apologize for them. The following year, according to People en Español, her highly publicized friendship with YouTuber Jeffree Star came to an end, initiating one of the internet's most notable beauty feuds.

Two years later, USA Today reported that a pregnant Von D caused another controversial frenzy after announcing she would be raising her baby without vaccines. Concerned for the health of her baby and the public, many began to boycott Von D's brand and implored beauty influencers to follow suit. Though she later came out and said she isn't actually anti-vax, the backlash led to further allegations connected to anti-semitism on Von D's part. In 2020, she sold her share of her cosmetic line. Renamed KVD Beauty, many influencers and gurus once again felt comfortable supporting the brand without Von D's name attached.

The Jaclyn Cosmetics brand launch

YouTuber Jaclyn Hill started her channel in 2011, and it quickly rose to prominence and fame when viewers fell in love with Hill's celebrity-inspired makeup looks and bubbly personality. Over the following few years, Hill gained millions of subscribers and worked on collaborations with name brands like Morphe Cosmetics and BECCA. Notably, Hill's famous "Champagne Pop" highlighter shade with BECCA broke records when it sold 25,000 units in 20 minutes (via Racked). It seemed only a matter of time before Hill would launch an exclusive collection of her own.

When the makeup line did finally happen for Hill, it didn't come without controversy. In June 2019, after the launch of Jaclyn Cosmetics, Us Magazine reported that customers soon began to complain about lipsticks in the line being defective. Consumers reported fuzz, hair, clumps, and tiny bubbles found within the lipstick and shared photos of their products that had either melted or crumbled right out of the tube.

Though Hill and her team came forward with an apology, assured the products were safe, and stated that the fuzz and "hair" was actually from the brand new gloves of quality control personnel, Independent noted that this was not Hill's first formulation scandal, so consumers weren't so easy to forgive this time. Hill switched production materials and labs to prevent quality control issues from happening again, but ultimately, while some customers were able to look past the incident, others forfeited all support for the YouTube guru.

The Jeffree Star controversies

Jeffree Star has undeniably been one of beauty's biggest and most controversial names — even before launching his own brand in 2014. Initially gaining notoriety in the late 2000s on Myspace for his beauty, fashion, and self-confidence posts, Insider reports Jeffree Star's career began as a "scene" icon with his face plastered on every Hot Topic wall. Despite his rapidly-growing popularity, an Insider investigation revealed that several people close to Star accused the then-singer of nonconsensually groping men, using stun guns to intimidate people, and sexually assaulting a homeless teenager using a taser. Interestingly enough, after Insider reached out to Star — who denied the allegations — all of his accusers retracted their witness accounts.

But the controversy didn't stop there. In his Myspace era, Star would reportedly seek attention by harassing passers on the street with racist and sexist slurs to start on-camera fights. Furthermore, Star could be seen on Myspace belittling Black women during his comedy skits — once even "joking" that he'd throw battery acid in a Black woman's face to lighten her skin. However, when Star launched his cosmetic line Jeffree Star Cosmetics in 2014, many hoped that he had grown and put his tumultuous Myspace days behind him.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. Star continued to find himself entangled in even more drama. After becoming involved in a series of famous online feuds with other influencers, Star was considered "canceled" in 2020, per Time.

The Laura Lee tweets

Alabama native Laura Lee started her YouTube channel in 2013, and was soon named StarCentral's "Beauty Guru of the Month" in October 2014. Fans adored Lee's tips, hacks, and tutorials, and her channel grew to reach 5 million subscribers by 2018. However, after a handful of racist tweets from Lee circa 2012 emerged, her following quickly dropped to 4.4 million within days after the tweets were released. According to The Sun, several of Lee's tweets angered viewers, but the one that seemed to have the most impact was written just after the 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin. It read: "Tip for all black people if you pull ur pants up you can run from the police faster #yourwelcome."

Lee immediately took to Twitter to apologize, but the damage had already been done. According to People, several companies dropped Lee from numerous collaborations they had been working on, including Ulta Beauty, who told People, "We have decided not to move forward with the launch of Laura Lee Los Angeles. Ulta Beauty values equality and inclusivity in all that we do." Other brands like Morphe, Boxycharm, and DIFF Eyewear also removed Lee from projects they were working on with her at the time. Lee uploaded a now-deleted five-minute apology video to YouTube, but many fans felt her words were not sincere.

The beauty industry's response to the Black Lives Matter movement

We can all agree that 2020 was undeniably one of the most tumultuous roller coaster rides of the 21st century. The year was quickly overcome by a global pandemic, and not long afterward George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. Many found ways to express their outrage after the incident, including the beauty community. Insider shared several makeup looks that influencers posted to social media in order to make a statement, but many felt that some of the makeup went too far, such as that of a TikTok user who goes by @Catharinas_Beauty, who shared a video of herself painting half of her face black while "This Is America" by Childish Gambino played in the background.

Today reported that a slew of influencers stepped up to apologize after being condemned for their makeup looks, including Catharina, who wrote via Instagram, "I only wanted to send a message against racism, but I did it wrong." She continued, "I'm only 16 and have to learn much more about world history."

On the other hand, famous influencers took the opportunity to educate those unaware of the tone-deaf messages they were spreading. YouTuber Nikkie de Jager, known as NikkieTutorials, wrote on Twitter, "Logging in and actually seeing people creating "I can't breathe" makeup looks................... friendly reminder: don't be that person. It's disrespectful and low, have some respect, sign petitions and DONATE!"

The questionable ethics of Drunk Elephant

Launched in 2013 by stay-at-home mom Tiffany Masterson, Drunk Elephant was quickly embraced by the beauty community for its clean and biocompatible ingredients like marula oil, which is known to have an almost intoxicating effect on elephants when consumed by them. When the company hit Sephora shelves, a cult following was formed, and many swore by the products' gentle-but-effective nature. However, in recent years, there has been controversy surrounding Drunk Elephant and its comeback is yet to be determined.

In 2019, Youtuber Hyram Yarbro — once a huge Drunk Elephant supporter — posted a YouTube video called "No More Drunk Elephant." Yarbro explained that one of his biggest qualms with the company is how its customers are treated. "There have been many issues and complaints in the past with Drunk Elephant's customer service and the way they respond and interact with customers over the phone or on chat rooms or in-person," he stated in the video. Yarbro goes on to explain that customers reported side effects of irritation, but the brand refused to take accountability, instead accusing the customers of lying. Some customers alleged that their comments speaking up about the negative side effects were deleted from Drunk Elephant's Instagram page, with some people even being blocked.

Furthermore, Drunk Elephant received more backlash during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Beauty blogger Small Town Beauty Addict announced she would no longer support the brand after it refused to reveal the number of Black and brown employees on its team, which many other brands at the time were doing. This inaction made many people question the brand for reasons relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion.